Since its inception in 1917, 99 plays have received the penultimate Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The category includes musicals and only a few comedies. But the judges were taken with Lanford Wilson’s quiet, funny, yet powerful Talley’s Folly awarding it the 1980 Pulitzer. At first glance, it’s a simple story of a man who loves a woman.
This seemingly straightforward romance of an over-forties bachelor wooing a thirty-something spinster has ripples that extend not outward, but inward. As Matt Friedman, John Taylor Phillips is jovial and likeable to a fault. Matt initially comes to the boathouse on the grounds of the Talley family estate to plead his case for a life with Sally Talley (Erin Weaver), who is not only less than overjoyed at his arrival, but downright angry.
It’s a truism that people are only as happy as they will let themselves be, but here there’s a strong added undercurrent akin to O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi”- each gives the other what they believe the other needs- only it’s not what they need after all. Over the course Matt and Sally’s back and forth, secrets and stories are revealed, and they’re never what you imagine they will be.
closes December 30, 2018
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It’s up to the audience to put the tiny pieces of this puzzle together. The pace of Wilson’s script is so deftly constructed that, at a mere hour and a half, it whizzes by- you’re caught up almost immediately in these people’s lives, and you hope that, despite the odds, it all ends happily.
Fortunately, this cast and crew are more than up to the job: Director Aaron Posner imbues this piece with a sensitive touch. As Jewish accountant Matt Friedman, John Taylor Phillips has the audience in the palm of his hand from the get go. Posner also manages to show us a man who has decided, despite his past, that he deserves to be happy, and that his Sally deserves it too. As Sally Talley, the never-married oldest daughter of the mighty Talley clan, Erin Weaver has the lesser of the two roles, yet her initial anger softens, and her reasons for refusing Matt slowly evaporate.
One of the finest things about this production is the extraordinary set by Scenic Designer Paige Hathaway. A multilevel folly of a decades-old gazebo and boathouse is limned by soft lighting and river grasses; two rowboats, one in the water and one out, symbolize journeys taken and those not taken.
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No detail is missed- everything in the boathouse has a soft, used, elderly feel about it, yet the lighting by Jesse Belsky imbues it with a waiting feel; never has dilapidated looked so beautiful. And the props, by Kasey Hendricks, are so right that it seems the boathouse has been there forever. Costumes by Kendra Rai are less successful; though Matt’s sensible brown suit and fedora suit the actor well, Sally’s supposedly ‘pretty’ dress and overlong sweater is styled less wartime 1940s than late 1950s, and the shoes are noticeably modern.
It should be noted that Theater J, will be out of house for the season while the DCJCC building is renovated. Talley’s Folly is being staged at GALA Hispanic Theater in DC; it’s a perfect space for this intimate piece. GALA’s renovated theatre at the Tivoli is a delight for the eyes, with gilded ceilings standing in stark contrast to the ruins of Talley’s Folly.
Talley’s Folly by Lanford Wilson . Director: Aaron Posner . Cast: John Taylor Phillips as Matt Friedman, Erin Weaver as Sally Talley . Scenic Design: Paige Hathaway . Sound Designer: Sandra O’Halloran . Lighting Designer: Jesse Belsk . Costume Design: Kendra Rai . Props Design: Kasey Hendricks . Dialect/Vocal Coach: Nancy Krebs . Productions Stage Manager: Kate Kilbane . Assistant Stage Managers: Bryan Boyd, Rebecca Talisman; Cody Whitfield . Produced by Theater J . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.
It’s amazing to me that reviewers continue to ignore the fact that the romantic hero of this play is a stalker and a bully who at one point literally covers over his love interest’s mouth so nobody can hear her scream for help.
Clearly the #metoo movement hasn’t made any in-roads into theater criticism.